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History

Under Gordon’s hat; Dr. Hugh Bodley and the Vicious Gamblers

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Gordon Cotton's Derby that sits up and to the right of the authors keyboard in the 1970's wood paneled office. Photo by David Day
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Dr. Hugh Bodley was a prominent doctor and citizen in the early days of Vicksburg.

The Background

During the 1830s, the River City was, like every river city, full of transients who worked the river for weeks on end and then took their reprieve on their days off in the river towns. Vicksburg was no different and was a favorite stop of river travelers.

They stopped, mostly for the Faro tables that dominated the northern end of town, near Glass Bayou. Faro was a gambling game played with cards and was the most popular gambling game of the 1800s until poker replaces it in the early 1900s.

Even a young Abraham Lincoln partnered on a raft full of goods that passed through Vicksburg in 1825.

A Faro table in the old west. By Unknown author(1)

One of the most famous gambling houses was run by a man named Truman North, a member of a band of nefarious pirates known as the Kangaroos. North’s gambling house was located near where the modern-day Klondyke currently sits.

The Kangaroos did all kinds of horrible things but specialized in robbing people. They made their living off of whiskey, women and gambling. They were also known up and down the river for pillaging the rafts of people traveling the Mississippi River. They controlled the bluffs above Glass Bayou and that viewpoint allowed them to see the rafts long before they got to Vicksburg.

Many a man disappeared somewhere between the Mississippi River turning up towards the harbor and turning south again to pass in front of Vicksburg (The river changed course in 1876 to its current path that turns near the Interstate).

A current map of Vicksburg shows the path of the river.

On Independence Day, July 4, 1835, 28 years before the surrender of Vicksburg and 59 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the city was having a huge public barbecue up the hill in the center of Old Town Vicksburg, somewhere near Farmer and Main (according to an early summary of that day’s events.) One report says the Vicksburg Volunteer Rifle Corp was hosting the Natchez Militia. That same report mentions that there was plenty of native cider and Monogahela – a type of rye whiskey favored in those days and most famously tied to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

An uneasy peace had always existed between the gentle folks of Vicksburg and the gamblers and river folks that did their deeds down in an area called the “Landing.” However, a widely published pamphlet by a man named Virgil Stewart claimed that a river pirate, John Murrell, was organizing slaves to rebel in a plot sponsored by highwaymen and Northern Abolitionists.

Although the account was later proven to be false, it was believed by several Southerners and led to a period of heightened suspicion called “The Murrell Excitement.” That “Excitement” led to increased tensions between the races and between locals and outsiders.

What had happened was…

One of the Kangaroo gamblers, a man named Francis Cabler, went to the celebration and felt slighted, he may have had too much of the Monogahela. He made rude comments and veiled threats, then he jumped up on a table and started to kick over the food and drink. Captain Brungrad of the militia ordered Cabler removed. Figuring Cabler would sleep it off the captain set the drunk gambler free.

What happened next has a couple of different versions but they all have the same outcome. One version says a young boy handed Captain Brungrad a note from Cabler saying, “I’m coming back from the Landing to kill as many volunteers as I can.” Another version of the story has a young slave boy yelling “He’s gonna kill you all! He’s gonna kill you all!” as Cabler came staggering up the hill.

Regardless of the accurate version, Cabler reappeared with a knife in one hand and a pistol in the other and he had yet another knife tucked in his belt according to all accounts. The militia made quick work of subduing the drunk Cabler. They took him to a clearing, tied him to a tree and gave him 32 lashes, according to this version of the story. They then tarred and feathered him and turned him loose with a warning that he must leave town within 48 hours.

Tar and feathering is horrible. It marks you for life with burns. The feathers add insult to injury and take weeks to come off with peeling skin. Most people who were tarred and feathered ended up with scars and hid from everyone while trying to recover from the burns. It was a harsh time for justice. Other punishments at the time included carving a big “H” into someone’s forehead if they were caught stealing a horse.

The rough handling of Cabler by the militia angered and frightened the gamblers at Truman North’s gambling house. Some gamblers threatened revenge. One version says the gamblers planned an attack upon the town that evening.

A large group of gamblers started up the hill but the group grew smaller as they neared the top. A few of them reached the peak, fired a few shots into the air and went back to the Landing. Another version says one of Cabler’s friends had tried to arm and rally his gang to rescue Cabler but failed to do so.

Hearing the threats of revenge and/or the failed attack, and already riled by the “Murrell Excitement”, a town meeting was held at the courthouse later that same day. Everyone at the meeting agreed something had to be done right away about the gamblers in Vicksburg. A decision was jointly made to warn the gamblers they were no longer welcome in Vicksburg and to give them 24 hours to get out of town. They printed off 100 notices and posted them for everyone to see. They read:

A purported photocopy of the original notice from the files of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Some gamblers left immediately, some made plans to leave soon as they got their money back from the house and some ignored the threat. On July 5, 1835, about 200 citizens gathered (400 by another report) as the Vicksburg Militia to finally rid the city of the vicious gamblers.

The Event

Emboldened by their large numbers and the lack of resistance at the first few gambling houses, the “militia’ worked its way towards the river and the final few gambling houses, the stronghold of the Kangaroos. The Kangaroos had set up defensive positions at the gambling house and were well barricaded against attack. Dr. Hugh Bodley, the leader of the Vicksburg Volunteers led the charge and entered the door of the stronghold. He was immediately shot, “But no sooner were the doors burst open, than a volley was fired from the interior and (s)even wounds inflicted in the breast of Dr. Bodley. He fell instantly into the arms of a by-stander, and expired without a groan or struggle,” according to a report written the next day by The Vicksburg Register (The effort to clear the gamblers began in the afternoon of the 5th so it must have been after midnight that Bodley was shot because the newspaper reports his death occurring on the 6th).

The four gamblers in the house were overpowered by the militia. Truman North, the ringleader, was not found in the structure but an alert citizen captured him as North attempted to escape Vicksburg. All five were immediately executed by hanging “in the presence of the assembled multitude. All sympathy for the wretches was completely merged in detestation and horror of their crime. The whole procession then returned to the city, collected all the faro tables into a pile, and burnt them,” according to Virgil Stewart in his telling of “The Gamblers at Vicksburg,” in 1836, page 267. “Their bodies were cut down on the morning after execution, and buried in a ditch.”

Photo from the Library of Congress (2)that highlights the barbaric habits of Americans in the 1830s. Note that at the center of the work is the hanging of 5 vicious gamblers in Vicksburg.

The Local Aftermath

In a report written July 7, 1835, and printed on July 9, 1835, in the Vicksburg Register, it says, “A monument will be erected over his grave at the expense of the citizens, and on it will be inscribed an epitaph, commemorative of his death and his virtues.”

In 1837 the citizens of Vicksburg erected a monument to Dr. Hugh Bodley and placed it over his grave on the corner of Monroe and First East. It reads:

“Erected by a grateful community to the memory of Dr. Hugh Bodley, Murdered by the gamblers July 5, 1835, while defending the morals of Vicksburg” Photo by David Day, Feb 5, 2022.

According to newspaper reports at the time, Bodley was buried on the northwest corner of the First Presbyterian Church at Monroe and First East, which was built a couple of years earlier in 1828. In 1864, Bethel AME purchased that church building. In 1912 Bethel AME took down the old church and built the current church building that still sits on that property. When Bethel undertook the rebuild in 1912, a decision was made to move the Bodley monument.

The original location of the Bodley monument at the corner of Monroe and First East is adjacent to the Bethel AME. This photo is a photo of a photo on the placard in front of Bethel AME church. Photo of the photo by David Day, Feb 5, 2022.

Recent history

The entryway to the current Bethel AME. The area in front of that doorway is about the location where the monument was originally placed. Photo by David Day.

With much fanfare, the monument was moved to its current location in a triangle of land at the intersection of Farmer Street and Openwood where it stands today.

It is the oldest monument in Vicksburg.

The Dr. Hugh S. Bodley monument is in the triangular piece of land at the intersection of Farmer, Openwood, and First East. Photo by David Day, Feb 5, 2022.

The National Aftermath

The national press was not kind to Vicksburg and its efforts to rid the city of vicious gamblers in 1835. They portrayed the event as a vicious mob who chose to violate the rule of law and thus, Vicksburg was disparaged nationally. In response, locals who were invested in the city made the effort to personify Bodley as a martyr. In Vicksburg, we tell the above version of the story. In the mind of the “vicious gamblers'” they were victims who were defending their rights and legal business from a marauding band of “do-gooders.”

The exact facts of what happened on July 4th and 5th, 1835, have been lost to history. Even the first telling two days later in The Vicksburg Register was obviously slanted to the viewpoint of the “do-gooders.” There have been many retellings of this event over the years with most every one adding some details and embellishments. This retelling is as accurate as we could verify.


The original report from the Vicksburg Register, July 9, 1835, was written on July 7, 1835

These images were recovered from microfilm at the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. Click to enlarge:

The Vicksburg Register, July 9, 1835

The original report from the Vicksburg Register, July 9, 1835. Photo from Microfilm at the Vicksburg/Warren Library. Photo by David Day


A postscript:

1.) Early reports say Dr. Bodley was buried under his monument (A monument will be erected over his grave…). There is no record of Bodley’s remains being moved in 1912 when they moved the monument to its current location. There are meticulous cemetery records from 1912 but there is no record of opening a grave or moving a grave for Bodley. The local press reported the move of the monument with great fanfare but did not include any details on Bodley’s remains. So, where is Bodley’s body buried?

 

 

(1) – http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-faro.html [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7864393

(2) – By American anti-slavery almanac – Library of Congress, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69059317

 


“Under Gordon’s hat” is a somewhat regular telling of history inspired by the great and used to be sometimes on time Gordon Cotton. The author was gifted Gordon’s old Derby hat and it sits up and to the right in this old 1970’s paneled office where this story was written.

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